How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes: Follow-Up
To say the response to my word cloud and LEGO posts has been overwhelming would be an understatement. The conversation that emerged, especially in response to the word cloud, was interesting and impassioned.
Consider this post a kind of wrap-up and a general response to some of the more commonly heard questions and criticisms. (Note that I addressed some of these points in the comments to the post but wanted to bring everything together here.)
One poster (barry) noted the potentially circular logic at play in my word cloud post. I pointed to the vocabulary in toy ads as being highly stereotyped, and he noted that the language reflects the nature of the toys: “boy’s toys are defined by the violent language, and violent language emerges from boy’s toys ads.” True enough. The words used in the ads are indicative of the toys’ traits—you would expect “battle” to emerge as a dominant word when many of the toys are about fighting.
In retrospect, I should have clarified that I was focusing on the marketing copy to highlight the gendered nature of many toys, as I did in my response to this poster: “By highlighting the words, I am trying to draw attention to the real issue: why do boys continue to be seen as interested only in things that smash, crash, and bash? The words here reflect the broader stereotypes held of boys—that they are aggressive, like a lot of noise and action, and are not suited to the more “domestic” toys targeted to girls.”
One of the themes that ran through some of the comments on both posts was that of nature vs. nurture—the idea that boys and girls are innately predisposed toward specific interests and behaviours (aggression and action for boys, nurturing for girls). A related theme was that marketing doesn’t matter a whole lot (I assume because gender differences are innate) and that I am reading too much into toy ads.
In response to both of these points, I defer to others with expertise in biology, sociology, and psychology.
- Regarding gender differences being in-born, poster cpt.sanity wrote: “It has been repeatedly shown and is accepted as fact in modern psychology from Rogers onwards, that while sex is a biological fact, gender roles are sociologically determined, largely by peer pressure in early years and mediated by advertising and media images.”
- Regarding the notion that toy marketing doesn’t matter, here is one response I wrote: “The impact of toy marketing on children has been discussed in many studies. One such study cites other research in stating that: “children are aware of the gendered portrayals in commercials and thus have learned the ‘appropriateness’ of toys through modeled behavior…[R]epeated exposure to these images contributes to the development of children’s conceptions of gender and their expected roles as men and women.” The authors of this article conduct their own study into the impact of nontraditional gender depictions and conclude that: “even after a brief exposure to nontraditional images both boys and girls were more likely to report that the toy advertised was for both boys and girls…If brief exposure to nontraditional images creates change…imagine what prolonged exposure could do for children’s beliefs and their behaviors.” (Pike, Jennifer and Nancy A. Jennings. “The effects of commercials on children’s perception of gender appropriate toy use.” Sex Roles 52, no. 1-2 (2005): 83-91.)”
Finally, there were many suggestions that this research be continued. As I noted in the introduction to the post, this was just a small exercise and a starting point. This is indeed a topic worthy of further examination and I intend to do so. I may publish some findings here as I complete them, but I intend to look at a much larger and more diverse sample, so it could take a while.
Thanks to everyone for the discussion.